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Constance Warren is the Constance Gardener

Constance Warren is the Constance Gardener

I live in a uniquely beautiful seaside community.  I was not born here, did not live my developmental years here, but have never felt so at home in a small town.

I am the outsider here, the import, if you will, but am happy to call myself  “local” at any opportunity.

My settlement here has included the purchase of a modest house, the accumulation of seven once feral, but now pampered cats, and the creation and continued evolution of a yard and garden.

For the garden,  my first order of business:  destroy the chaos of overgrown bushes and weeds, replace other long-dead shrubs, and plant all the perennials and annuals that I have loved and grown in previous “settlements.”

One by one, into the ground went lovely delicate plantings, and, one by one, they wither and died in the harsh wind of a nor’easter, or the salt spray and heavy rains of a hurricane.

A friend of mine once gifted me with a plant stake that read:  “If I haven’t killed a plant at least three times, I’m not stretching myself as a gardener.”

Well, stretch I did.

As my favorites died, I simply replaced them with new ones, the same varieties, of course.  I can be a little slow on the uptake, but after experiencing this agony for a couple of years, the message began to emerge:  That which is truly local survives.  It is conditioned to weather the winds, heavy rains, salt and sandy soil that is the coast of North Carolina.  It may lie dormant in times of particular stress, but will surely reemerge once conditions are favorable.

As I began my search for hearty and native plant life, I was forced to look at the definition of “local” for myself and others “from off” who call this town home.

We arrive here, completely romanced by the age and history of the town, charmed by our “water views,” and enamored with the relaxed, “work hard, play hard” attitudes that become a lifestyle.  Some newcomers fit right in and accept the town on its own terms.

And others?

Their thought process seems to be  “We love it...we love it...but, maybe if it wasn’t quite so noisy, we’d love it more...and maybe if our houses were more like extra large boxes rather than coastal cottages, we’d love it more...and perhaps if we could be served local seafood, but in a little more posh environment with very polite servers and VERY LARGE BILLS, we’d love it more.

And maybe, just maybe, if we could make our 'water views' very private so that the unsightly 'locals' weren’t part of our 'water views,' than we’d really love it more.”

And in the process, these newcomers destroy the protective structure of the coastline so that there's more land for their big boxes, posh restaurants and private 'water views.'

Inevitably, the storms come, the winds blow, the salt corrodes, and the water carries away all that is not conditioned to survive in this native environment--objects and people.

Think back to my garden scenario--a beautiful image I tried to bring here from another place and time.  Some passed the test and thrived, while most withered and died--painfully, I’m sure.  It is the same for people.

I like to think that I am a survivor--adapted through wind, salt and waters of my own, to become somewhat of an evolved form of local.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still try to coax all sorts of exotic plantings from the dry, sandy soil here.  Let’s face it:  Thai cucumbers...Italian eggplant?--hardly native--yet they have survived and thrived because they took only what they needed and made the most of what was given:  symbiosis.

The heat, the deep soaking rains, the winds to cool--all accepted and used as the beautiful gift they are, not a curse to be altered.

Do yourselves a favor.  Plant a garden--exotic flora, yes, but also plant seeds of interest to the real locals that have lived and struggled here for generations.

Plant seeds of appreciation for the cottage architecture that has persisted through hundreds of years of wars and storms--even pirates.   Develop deep roots of preservation for our sea life and our coast line.

Yes, so many of us have settled this coast “from off,” but through trial and error, hard work and struggle, have found a symbiotic relationship with the land and the people that has helped weather us to “local” status.

I cannot speak for every import that has planted itself here, but for my house, garden, seven, once feral, but now pampered kitties, the Thai Five Star Cucumber, the Rosa Bianca Eggplant and me...we’re looking through local eyes and calling this place home.

Constance is a life-long North Carolinian and learned her gardening craft from her 'green-thumbed grandmother' who allotted Constance a small garden space and a package of pumpkin seeds and let her “have my way with it.” Today Constance continues to “practice” her gardening efforts at her home in Beaufort, North Carolina, assisted by her tribe of feline garden helpers.

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